Wednesday, July 21, 2010

new transnational histories for 21st century Australians

“one of the many tragedies of race relations in Australia is our failure to accord any space to the stories of people of colour who were not Aboriginal, especially those from the African diaspora. How much richer and more complex our national definition would be if we could encompass the multi-ethnic diversity of our colonial past.”

1500 - 1876

Macassen fishermen (Indonesia -  Northern Territory)

Makassan traders began trading with the indigenous people of the Northern Territory for trepang from at least the 18th century onwards, and very likely for 300 years prior to that.  Evidence for this can be seen in rock art depicting fisherman and their ships in sacred art sites of the coastal Arnhem land region.  Makassar is also a major fishing center in Sulawesi. One of its major industries is the trepang (sea cucumber) industry. Trepang fishing brought the Makassan people into contact with the Yolŋu people of Northern Australia.

C. C. MacKnight in his 1976 work entitled Voyage to Marege: Macassan Trepangers in Northern Australia has shown that they began frequenting the north of Australia some time around 1700 in search of trepang (sea-slug, sea cucumber, Beche-de-mer) an edible Holothurian. They left their waters during the North-west Monsoon in December or January for what is now Arnhem Land, Marege or Marega and to the Kimberley region or Kayu Djawa. They returned home with the South-east Trades in April. A fleet of between 24 and 26 Macassan prahus was seen in 1803 by the French explorers under Nicolas Baudin on the Holothuria Banks in the Timor Sea. In February 1803, Matthew Flinders in the Investigator met six prahus with 20-25 men each on board and was told that there were 60 prahus then on the north Australian coast. They were fishing for trepang and appeared to have only a small compass as a navigation aid. In June 1818 Macassan trepang fishing was noted by Phillip Parker King in the vicinity of Port Essington in the Arafura Sea. In 1864 R.J. Sholl, then resident magistrate for the European settlement at Camden Sound (near Augustus Island in the Kimberley region) observed seven ‘Macassan’ prahus with around 300 men on board. He believed that they made kidnapping raids and ranged as far south as Roebuck Bay (later Broome) where ‘quite a fleet’ was seen around 1866. Sholl believed that they did not venture south into other areas such as Nickol Bay (where the European pearling industry commenced around 1865) due to the absence of trepang in those waters. The Macassan voyages appear to have ceased sometime in the late nineteenth century and their place was taken by other sailors operating from elsewhere in the Indonesian Archipelago.

The Macleay Museum art collection has several examples of bark paintings that reference this knowledge


(Portugal - Cape York)

Louis Vaez de Torres and his ships San Pedro and Los Tres Reyes that sailed through Torres Strait


(Dutch - Cape York)

In early 1606 Janszoon encountered and then charted the shores of Australia's Cape York Peninsula. The ship made landfall at the Pennefather River in the Gulf of Carpentaria. This was the first authenticated landing on Australian soil and for the first time all the inhabited continents of the world were known to the European science of geography. Janszoon is thus credited with the first authenticated European discovery of Australia. The ship sailed back to Bantam.


(English - East coast Australia)

Captain James Cook encounters the east coast of Australia

January 26 1788

(English - East Coast Australia)

Through brute force and sheer will power the English colonisation of Australia displaced and transformed the Aboriginal categories of social structure, language and territoriality.  The Australian colonization was the result of tried and tested techniques that had been implemented by imperial representatives in the America, Canada, India, and several African Nations.

Between 1788 and 1850 the English sent over 162,000 convicts to Australia in 806 ships. Interestingly African Americans were among the members of these first settlers to Australia – some being sent from the Americas to England for siding with the british in the

Non English people who were part of the first convict arrivals in Australia

West India Caribbean colonies of the United Kingdom

Born in the West Indies, John Caesar fled to England to escape plantation slavery. Ironically, he soon found himself transported to Australia on the first fleet where he once more faced a life of slavery.  A huge man, the small rations of the colony compelled him to steal in order to sustain himself. David Collins, the colony's Judge-Advocate, wrote in July 1789:  " This man was always reputed the hardest working convict in the colony; his frame was muscular and well calculated for hard labour; but in his intellects he did not very widely differ from a brute; his appetite was ravenous, for he would in any one day devour the full rations for two days. To gratify this appetite he was compelled to steal from others, and all his thefts were directed to that purpose." (Collins).  On 29 April 1789, Caesar were tried for theft. A fortnight later Caesar, described as "an incorrigibly stubborn black," bolted with some provisions, an iron pot, and a soldier's musket. Garden robberies became frequent.  "Caesar stole a musket ... from Abraham Hand, a marine, and took to the bush. However, any intention he had of living off the land was soon abandoned because of the scarcity of game. Instead, he began prowling around the outskirts of the settlement with a loaded musket, stealing what food he could find. On May 26 he narrowly escaped capture after he had helped himself to the rations of a gang who were making bricks at Brickfield Hill, and on the night of June 6 he was caught by a convict named Wm. Saltmarsh while attempting to steal some food from the house of the colony's assistant commissary for stores, Zachariah Clark."

Records show that there were around 12 African American people in the first fleet – in other cases African Americans were treated very differently to Aboriginal people and worked in distinguished positions.

January 29 1788

France - East Coast of Australia

La Perouse was named after the French navigator Jean François de Galaup de Lapérouse [1] (1741-88), who landed on the northern shore of Botany Bay west of Bare Island in January 1788 only days after the first fleet of convicts arrived in Australia . King Louis XVI of France had commissioned Lapérouse to explore the Pacific (L’expédition de Lapérouse, 1785-1788, réplique française au voyage de Cook [2]). In April 1770 Cooks expedition had sailed onto the east coast of Australia whilst exploring the south Pacific searching for Terra Australis or ‘Land of the South’. Upon King Louis XVI's orders, Lapérouse departed Brest, France, in command of L’Astrolabe and La Boussole on 1 August 1785 on a scientific voyage of the Pacific Inspired by the voyages of Cook. La Perouse in Sydney's south is named after the leader of this French expedition.

1851 - 1871

China - New South Wales/Victoria

In 1852 alone, 370,000 immigrants arrived in Australia and the economy of the nation boomed.  The 'rush' was well and truly on. Victoria contributed more than one third of the world's gold output in the 1850s and in just two years the State's population had grown from 77,000 to 540,000!  The number of new arrivals to Australia was greater than the number of convicts who had landed here in the previous seventy years. The total population trebled from 430,000 in 1851 to 1.7 million in 1871.

1860 – 1906

Numerous South Pacific Islands - Queensland/Northern NSW

Pacific Island labourers

Beginning in the 1860s, tens of thousands of Pacific Islanders were brought to Australia as low paid labourers. By the early 1890s, 46,000 labourers had arrived in Queensland, and up to 62,000 labourers arrived in all. Many of these people were forcibly removed from their homes, in a process called "blackbirding", by which Islanders were either kidnapped or deceived into travelling to Australia. They were brought to fuel the growing need for cheap labour in the sugar industry, since white labour was scarce and expensive. The majority of labourers were employed under indentured labour arrangements, whereby they received either no pay or extremely small amounts of pay.  The Act prohibited any Pacific Islanders from entering Australia after 31 March 1904, and required all those entering before then to have a license. During the year 1902, the maximum number of licences that could be issued was limited to three-quarters of the number of Pacific Islanders who left Australia in 1901. During 1903, this license quota lowered even further, to half of the total departures in 1902. Any person who brought a Pacific Islander into the country contrary to the Act could be fined GBP 100.  Any Pacific Islander found in Australia after 31 December 1906 could be deported immediately by order of the Minister for External Affairs, and any Islander found in Australia before that date, who had not been employed under an indentured labour agreement at any time in the preceding month, could be deported immediately. It was an offence to employ a Pacific Islander in any other way than an indentured labour agreement, punishable by a fine of GBP 100. All such agreements were cancelled on December 31 1906


America - Australia

Civil rights act in the United States - international
Chevert expedition North East Australia, South Pacific, Torres Straits, Papua New Guinea
Port Essington Bark paintings presented to the Linnean society of NSW


Torres Strait annexed by Queensland

The Torres Strait Islanders possess a heritage and cultural history distinct from Aboriginal traditions. The eastern Torres Strait Islanders in particular are related to the Papuan peoples of New Guinea, and speak a Papuan language.[12] Accordingly, they are not generally included under the designation "Aboriginal Australians." This has been another factor in the promotion of the more inclusive term "Indigenous Australians". Six percent of Indigenous Australians identify themselves fully as Torres Strait Islanders. A further 4% of Indigenous Australians identify themselves as having both Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal heritage.[13]
The Torres Strait Islands comprise over 100 islands[14] which were annexed by Queensland in 1879.[14] Many Indigenous organisations incorporate the phrase "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander" to highlight the distinctiveness and importance of Torres Strait Islanders in Australia's Indigenous population.


Federation of Australia
Implementation of the White Australia policy in Australia until 1975
Implementation of the Pacific Island labourers act in Australia until 1906

At this time more Aboriginal people had learned to speak English than English had learned Aboriginal languages.  There are many instances of settlers who had communication abilities to converse with Aboriginal people but this was more often used to displace other Aboriginal people than


African American boxer and hero of the African American community Jack Johnston visits Melbourne and Sydney meets with members of The Aboriginal community Fred Maynard (syd) Trevor Nichols (mel) who go on to found

international influences on Aboriginal self determination 

Marcus Garvey founds the universal Negro improvement association formed to improve the living conditions of people from the African Diaspora especially 2nd and 3rd generation people descendants of slaves


The Aborigines Progressive Association (APA), an all-Aboriginal body, was formed in New South Wales with Jack Patten as president and Bill Ferguson as secretary.


Day of Mourning protest on Australia Day organised by the APA

International influences

Anti segregation movement in the United States alerts the world to the overturning of any government legislation that promotes apartheid

1961 – International influences

Freedom rides in the United States protest segregation in the American South


Students for Action on Aborigines including first Aboriginal University graduate Charles Perkins undertake freedom rides across regional NSW


Gurindji strike Aboriginal stockman protest unequal wages in the pastoral industry


Referendum for the equal rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia


Black Power in inner city Sydney movement initiates the Aboriginal legal service (1969) and Aboriginal medical service (1971) in Australia


Tent embassy marks the Aboriginal self determinations’ government model and direct political action by Aboriginal people


End of the white Australia policy implementation


A non-statutory NSW Aboriginal Land Council was established in 1977 as a specialist Aboriginal lobby on land rights. It was formed when over 200 Aboriginal community representatives and individuals met for three days at the Black Theatre in Redfern to discuss land rights.


Bicentenary of Australia re-enacts the colonisation of Australia and the establishment of the British Penal colony in Australia in 1788.


Mabo decision handed down by the High court of Australia revokes the legal fiction of Terra Nullius in Australia and recognises Edie Mabo’s  ownership of land.  Eddie Mabo was from Mer or Murray Island in the Torres Strait, which the famous Mabo decision of 1992 involved.[14]


Apology to the Stolen Generations by the Australian prime minister

General time periods for reference material

General overview of time frames

Prior to 1914

Ethnographic and Anthropological history of subjecting Indigenous peoples to scientific scrutiny and the use of science in creating racial hierarchies between races of people.

1914 – 1945

Aboriginal peoples involvement in both world wars


Maralinga nuclear testing in Aboriginal communities, fears of the communist influences in Aboriginal political consciousness, the art of Albert Namatjira.


Political consciousness and confidence of Aboriginal people informed by international community’s anti apartheid and anti segregationist movements.


Strengthening of the Aboriginal self determinationist movement grows as an opposition to the bicentenary galvanises Aboriginal Australians, creative control of artistic and media representations of Aboriginal people, Boomalli, Bangarra, Black Books, Indigenous screen Australia etc


Dissolution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander commission ends government appointed representative body on behalf of Aboriginal affairs,marks the beginning of the history wars in Australia.


Apology to the stolen generations, the Northern Territory intervention begins